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Pope’s Sabbath Endorsement Draws Attention

 Pope’s Sabbath Endorsement Draws Attention

A two-year-old interview with Pope Francis, supreme leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, has recirculated to extreme praise from a leading rabbi in Israel. A clip from the interview was made available online by Spanish-language YouTube channel Adventist Message. In it, the native Argentinean, speaking to 60 Minutes, the long-standing American television program and news magazine, outrightly lauds the “Jewish Sabbath.” 

Francis noted that the constant busyness of people today “ruins mental health, spiritual health, and physical health. More so: It affects and destroys the family, and therefore society.”

Quoting Genesis 2:2 (“He rested on the seventh day”), Francis continued, “What the Jews followed and still observe, was to consider the Sabbath as holy. On Saturday you rest. One day of the week, that’s the least! Out of gratitude, to worship God, to spend time with the family, to play, to do all these things. We are not machines!”

The chief rabbi of Tsfat (Safed), a city of 35,000 in northern Israel, was overjoyed at the pope’s comments.

“You probably won’t believe it, but the Pope called on the inhabitants of the world to keep the Sabbath like the Jews,” Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu said. “It is unbelievable. Those who have decreed that we will not keep Shabbat now understand what the value of Shabbat is,” he added.

Also of note was the rabbi’s enthusiastic optimism of future endorsement by the papacy, in particular its much-coveted support of a new Temple on the Temple Mount. How many other religions would echo Eliyahu’s excitement at the prospect of being backed by such a powerful influencer as the Catholic Church?

Not the Pope’s First Time

But the question remains: Did the pope really call for seventh-day worship? This is far from the first time that Pope Francis has spoken positively about the values of the seventh-day Sabbath. But in no instance—including the 60 Minutes interview and despite Eliyahu’s assumption—has he declared that people should observe Saturday as the day of worship.

“Abstention from work on a Sunday did not exist in the first centuries: It is a specific contribution of Christianity,” Francis declared in a 2017 address. He added, “By biblical tradition, the Jews rest on Saturday, while in Roman society there was no weekly day of abstention from servile labor. It was the Christian sense of living as sons and not slaves, animated by the Eucharist, that made Sunday—almost universally—the day of rest.”

Here, the pope admits that Sunday rest was an ordinance instituted by man, but he touts it as one distinctively definitive to the Christian faith. The only problem is that Sunday rest was not a commandment followed by the early Christian church (Acts 13:14; 16:13; 17:2) nor was it practiced by Jesus Christ (Mark 1:21; Luke 4:16), of whom Christians are followers.

In addition, there was a glaring error in Francis’ remarks: “Unfortunately, the learned pontiff overlooked the truth that Sabbath worship is not merely a biblical tradition followed by the Jews, but a biblical command—instituted at the Creation by the Creator and renewed by the example of Jesus Christ when He walked on earth.” While the pope often separates the Jewish and Christian faiths by the seventh-day Sabbath, the Bible says otherwise: “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27, emphasis ours)—not only Jews.

Less than a year later, in another general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pope again extolled the seventh-day Sabbath as a model:

“Rest in the name of the Lord has a precise motive: ‘Because in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea and what is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord has blessed the Sabbath and consecrated it’ (Exodus 20:11). This refers to the end of creation when God says: ‘God saw what He had done, and He saw that it was good’ (Genesis 1:31). And then begins the day of rest, which is God's joy for what He has created.”

But immediately after, the pope proceeded to conflate Saturday with Sunday: “For us Christians, the center of the Lord’s Day, Sunday, is the Eucharist, which means ‘thanksgiving.’ It is the day to say to God: thank you, thank you Lord, thank you for your life, for your mercy, for all your gifts.” Is the Lord’s Day Sunday, as the pope claims, or is it actually Saturday? “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8).

The Sabbath Never Changes

Nowhere in Scripture is there a verse, an indication, a suggestion, that the command to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8) has been changed to “Remember Sunday.” There is no verse that says the early Christians exchanged Sabbathkeeping for worship on the first day of the week; and there is no biblical directive from Jesus that says we should make a change.

It’s possible to appreciate the many good, charitable healthcare and educational works done by the church Pope Francis leads, while also respectfully disagreeing with his take on the day of worship. As impressive a figure as the pontiff might be, the Bible is above the opinion of any man, and the Bible answer about the Sabbath is clear: It was, is, and ever shall be the seventh day of the week!

For a comprehensive video treatment of the Bible Sabbath’s history, meaning, and future, view the free online series The Seventh Day. Presented by award-winning actor Hal Holbrook, these presentations will answer your questions—and then some!

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